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Salvage the Bones by Jesmyn Ward

Salvage the Bones by Jesmyn Ward Salvage the Bones by Jesmyn Ward

The four Batiste siblings are living in a run down house on what remains of their grandparents once thriving farm. Their mother died in childbirth and their neglectful father is oftentimes too tired or too drunk to tend to the needs of the children.

High school basketball star Randall, dog-loving and sensitive Skeetah, only girl Esh, and the baby Junior nurture and support each other in fictional Bois Sauvage, Mississippi.

This tale is narrated by the insightful 14-year-old Esh and unfolds over a twelve day period in August 2005, during which the deadly Hurricane Katrina makes landfall.

Book Club Ideas

Book club parties should always be a time of celebrating the written word, a time of sharing ideas and feelings about the chosen book, and a time of camaraderie, no matter how difficult the novel.

Decorating ideas for Salvage the Bones can follow a hurricane party theme and include lighting candles and hurricane lamps to provide a soft glow as your book club guests arrive to wait out the storm.

Salvage the Bones decorations

The Mississippi has deep roots are in the blues, country music, and rock & roll.  Smithsonian Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage‘s  Blues Roots/Mississippi or listen to Stories from the Storm: Hurricane Katrina Survivors, In Their Own Words, produced by Audible.

Book Club Menu

Ramen noodles were top of the list for emergency food staples being gathered by the Batiste children. Also included were Vienna Sausages, and eggs from their hen house.

Junior snacked on his ramen noodles raw, but since plain raw ramen noodles are pretty blah and boring to serve at a party, I would suggest this delicious and crunchy Spicy and Sweet Ramen Noodle Snack Mix instead.

Ramen Noodle Snack Mix

Esh prepared boiled eggs before the gathering storm. You can take boiled eggs a step further and prepare these Eye of the Storm Deviled Eggs for your book club party. I piped the yolk mixture into the egg whites in a swirl to create the circular motion of a hurricane and placed a black olive in the center of the swirl for the hurricane’s eye. My piping skills could use a little finesse, but I think you can get the idea.

Creamy Deviled Eggs

If you have any appetizing suggestions for dressing up Vienna Sausages, please let me know!

Salvage the Bones is set in the Gulf Coast state of Mississippi, so be sure to include a gulf state specialty.

Spicy Baked Fried Shrimp


Hurricane Cake is a fabulously rich and decadent dessert. I’m not sure why it’s called hurricane cake, other than the fact it can wreak havoc on your waistline.

Hurricane Cake

Ice down some bottled waters (another emergency staple) and prepare a batch of Hurricanes. The fruity rum-based hurricane originated at the still popular Pat O’Brien’s bar around 1940. Try  Pat O’Brien’s World Famous Hurricane Cocktail Mix.

Hurricane Cocktail

The glassware pictured above is actually a Pat O’Brien’s cyclone glass. The hurricane cocktail should be served in a hurricane glass.

Book Club Resources

Ratings at the time this post was published

Goodreads: 3.77 stars ( 17,271 ratings)
Amazon: 4.1 stars (498 ratings)
LibraryThing: 3.85 stars (320 ratings)
My Rating: 4.5 stars I was very moved and shaken by Salvage the Bones. Esh’s narration was heartbreaking, brutal and shocking, but I never lost hope for the Batiste children. Salvage the Bones is a beautiful, lyrical novel.

Discussion Questions

Spoiler Alert: Discussion guide may contain spoilers to the book.

1. Salvage the Bones opens with China giving birth to a litter of puppies in the shed. What do we learn about Esch and the rest of the Batiste family during this scene? How does each of Esch’s brothers react to the puppies’ birth? What will Esch learn about motherhood from watching China with her puppies?
2. Esch’s summer reading assignment, Mythology by Edith Hamilton, includes the story of the tragic romance between Jason and Medea. How does the myth of Jason and Medea relate to Esch’s
relationship with Manny? In the end, does Esch betray her family for love, as Medea did?
3. Chart Esch’s attitude toward her pregnancy through the twelve days of the novel. How does Esch first realize that she might be pregnant, and how does she react when her suspicion is confirmed? When do we see Esch in stages of denial, fear, and acceptance? How do Skeetah and Daddy respond when they discover Esch’s pregnancy?
4. Discuss the nature of Skeetah’s bond with his pit bull, China. Why is Skeetah so committed to China and her puppies? How does Skeetah negotiate his responsibilities to his family and to his dog?
5. How does Daddy seem to know that a storm is coming before anyone else? How do his children
and neighbors react to his early preparations? Why do Daddy’s precautions fail in the face of
Katrina’s destruction?
Read more . . .

6. Esch wonders “if Daddy will feel his missing fingers the way we feel Mama, present in the
absence” (247). Discuss the presence of Mama in the novel, even though she has been dead for
seven years. How does Mama live on in her children’s memory?
7. The fifth chapter has the same title as the novel, “Salvage the Bones.” Review the chapter and discuss what the title means. How does the title fit the chapter as well as the novel as a whole?
8. Discuss the depiction of violence in Salvage the Bones. What do scenes of violence—including Daddy’s loss of his fingers, China’s brutal killing of her puppy, and the dogfight between China and Kilo—add to the novel? How do violence and tenderness coexist in this troubled setting?
9. Consider how Manny betrays Esch and her brothers. How does Manny treat Esch before and after he learns of her pregnancy? Why does Manny turn on Skeetah and China and support Rico and Kilo in the dogfight?
10. Randall tells Skeetah, “You just like Daddy. Always crazy for something” (157). Discuss the similarities and differences between Skeetah and Daddy. How do the similarities between father and son create conflict between them?
11. Discuss the setting of Salvage the Bones. How does the Pit—the lot where the Batiste family has lived for generations—look and feel? What is it like to grow up in the town of Bois Sauvage? What are race relations like in this rural Mississippi area?
12. Review the scenes of the hurricane, in which Esch, her brothers, and Daddy scramble from their attic to their roof to Mother Lizbeth and Papa Joseph’s house in order to escape the rising water. How do these family members help each other survive these treacherous conditions? Why does Daddy throw Esch into the water, and how does he later express regret?
13. Skeetah lets go of China in order to save Esch from drowning in the storm. Does Skeetah seem to regret his choice of sister over dog? What is the mood at the end of the novel, as Skeetah waits by the house for China to return to him?
14. Big Henry tells Esch, “This baby got plenty of daddies” (255). Name the “daddies” who will help Esch raise her child. What assistance does each of these boys and men have to offer?
15. Compare the portrayal of Katrina in Salvage the Bones to what you saw of the hurricane in the news. Which aspects of the storm’s devastation does this novel bring to life? What does Esch’s perspective add to your understanding of Katrina’s impact?
Discussion Questions found at

Purchase Salvage the Bones at your favorite bookseller

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The Author

Jesmyn Ward, Author of Salvage the Bones Jesmyn Ward grew up DeLisle, Mississippi and received her MFA from the University of Mississippi. Jesmyn’s 2001 National Book Award winner, Salvage the Bones, follows her highly acclaimed debut novel, Where the Line Blends.
You can learn more about Jesmyn on her blog Jesmimi.

Selected by Indie Booksellers for the September 2011 Indie Next List
Selected by Indie Booksellers for the Summer 2012 Reading Group

Other Works by Author and Recommended Reading

Favorite Quotes

“She left us as dark Gulf and salt-burned land. She left us to learn to crawl. She left us to salvage. Katrina is the mother we will remember until the next mother with large, merciless hands, committed to blood, comes.”


“She will look down on the circle of light we have made in the pit, and she will know that I have kept watch, that I have fought. China will bark and call me sister. In the star-suffocated sky, there is a great waiting silence.”

“She will know that I am a mother.”

Do you have any other ideas or recipes for a book club party for Salvage the Bones? We would love to have you share them with us! You can leave a comment below and upload pictures as well.

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